Monday, April 25, 2011

In the West: What is NPS to do?

Looking back over 130 years, it is tempting to conceive of the expansion of the Grand Canyon National Park's boundary as a logical, step-after-step, if not always steady, gathering of federal lands into a unified entity celebrating the physical Grand Canyon. This is certainly not how that expansion was seen at the time. In mid-twentieth-century, this was due to the also-increasing federal commitment to dam construction, first with the Boulder Project and then at Bridge Canyon. The presence of dams and reservoirs was, theoretically, a heavy tabu for a National Park. Yet the western Canyon was certainly of the highest quality. Consequently, even as NPS was exploring, then implementing, the (lesser) alternative of reservoir recreation complexes, some of the investigators were learning about and praising what was after all the further expression of the Canyon's full story. To say that upper Lake Mead or a Bridge Canyon dam reservoir would be a huge recreational asset was also to point out the Grandness of the Canyon west of the then-Monument, GCNM2.
The Presidential revision of the Monument's boundary was paralleled through the 1930's and 40's by heavy discussion over administration of the Canyon west of the Monument. The dominant element was the reservoirs, the Boulder Project already coming into being and Bridge Canyon as a desired dam being investigated. What this meant was that there would soon be an immense federal lake certainly attracting multitudes. Reclamation did not want be responsible for handling the recreation resource; NPS was willing, but not without qualms. Had the land involved all been basin-and-range, no doubt the discussion could have stayed on the question of water recreation. However, and as more NPS staff came to comprehend, the Grand Canyon's overwhelming values made the area of National Park worth. These values had been put forth in a broad way (as I wrote in my 10 Jan 2011 entry) in the late 1920's. One Interior suggestion was a "Virgin National Park", a non-starter, but the contemporary map indicates this area of overlapping futures:

What the discussion did lead to was an immense withdrawal in April 1930 of land to be considered for a Monument or some other area, since NPS did not favor a Park. The extensive Hoover withdrawals of land that might be considered in a Boulder Canyon Project area were accompanied by NPS discussion of how it might administer any recreation activity, what the Monument should include, and whether there would be a park highway paralleling the river on the north side of the Canyon, as recommended by NPS' Toll in 1932. 

A 1929 NPS engineer's report on the reservoir area by Edwards spoke of "oases" for concessions with irrigation pumping, (such as at Tassi Spring), and lake trips--the spectacular boat trip into the lower Canyon would be possible for thousands. He emphasized Pierce Ferry, though there was nothing there but an old road. He recognized the problem of water level fluctuation. 

With the Monument declared, and the dam rising in Black Canyon, these considerations gave rise to an effort to end the withdrawal by legislating a reservoir recreation area. Arizona's Hayden & Nevada's McCarren introduced Senate bills in 1933 for a Boulder Canyon National Reservation, allowing grazing and mining within boundaries drawn closer to the reservoir, so allowing the withdrawal to be vacated. Though no action ensued, it stirred up debate over NPS's role. The language went like this: if the Boulder Project was not interfered with, NPS could promote use to conserve scenery etc. and provide for enjoyment. That is to say, for a recreation area, the NPS' fundamental purposes were made secondary to Reclamation's. The bill was re-introduced in 1935, with no action. 

Geologist McKee reported on the area, Oct 1935, saying that while the lake was the focal point, the canyons, mountains, and cliffs had geological and archeological features that should be protected. He included little of the Shivwits Plateau, and recommended against a road along the Canyon, and taking horses into the Canyon. Assuming a more or less stable lake level, he emphasized Pierce Ferry, calling for a major development on the north side including a ferry. However, to jump ahead, by 1945 silt deposition led to Regional Director Tillotson wanting a switch in development location, to Temple Bar. 

With legislation not obtainable, Reclamation and NPS made a cooperative agreement in August 1936, approved by Sec. Ickes 13 Oct 1936, for administration and development of the Boulder Dam Recreation Area. The basic division was to be territorial. Reclamation would have jurisdiction over the dam and Boulder City, including interpretation at the dam. NPS, with its expertise in recreation, would administer the rest, though Reclamation had an over-riding say. NPS was to handle mining and grazing, which were expressly allowed, the "well-known" Park ban not applying. As indicated by protests, mining was of great importance in Arizona and Nevada. Though NPS thought there was little opportunity in this arid area for grazing, it could be allowed to enhance good will and and since no harm would come from it. Ickes gave NPS a "free hand" in developing recreation, and to acquire if possible control over game and wildlife. The US Biological Survey objected, calling grazing and mining often detrimental. Boulder Dam National Recreation Area seems to have emerged as the formal name. 

In 1937, Edwards was working on the boundary, including adding land on the Shivwits, "to square up the boundary". His intent was to include all the reserved lands over to GCNM2. adding some north of Devils Slide. This was used in 1938 in preparation of another legislative attempt. In 1939, NPS proposed adding the land south of river and west of Hualapai Reservation, for its fine Joshua trees. The idea remained contentious of acquiring the northern part of the  Reservation. Although Pierce Ferry area additions were checkerboarded, they contained the best exposed and most scenic part of the Grand Wash Cliffs. A proposal was also floated by the Director to add GCNM2 to this recreation area to avoid controversy over dams in Parks. This would solve the problem of non-conforming uses, i.e., keep the use, get rid of the Park.

By 1941, Reclamation was all hot about Bridge Canyon dam, due to the attempt by Arizona to get FPC approval to build a state dam. At meetings, Reclamation officials were "definitely" indicating that Bridge might be built soon. Boundaries were set for withdrawals of land to be used for town, dam, road, power lines, etc. Olmsted meanwhile expressed his opinion that the Shivwits was primarily good for grazing; there were certainly cattle all over the plateau, though none down below. Also, perhaps a road would be needed in connection with Bridge dam. Price Point was lauded for its views, "startling and grand". There was concern at the lack of funds for a fire lookout; a complete ranger station was needed on the Shivwits. It was decided to take a more detailed look at the Grand Canyon part of the recreation area, 

Sources: Lake Mead National Recreation Area archives, Laguna Niguel NARA, Boulder City, DC

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